Summer 2008 Ai initiates research into the Sichuan Earthquake that took place on May 12 and claimed the lives of nearly 70,000 people. Ai organizes volunteers to compile a list of students killed by the collapse of poorly built schools in the earthquake.
March 28, 2009 Prominent Chinese writer and activist Tan Zuoren arrested in his home in Chengdu on charges of “inciting subversion of state power,” three days after the online publication of the concluding document from his and Xie Yuhui’s investigation into the deaths of more than 5,000 during earthquake. Ai subsequently agrees to testify at the trial at the suggestion of Tan’s lawyer.
August 12, 2009 At 3 am. Ai is beaten by police while staying at a hotel in Sichuan. He is prevented from testifying for Tan.
September 14, 2009 While in Munich for his retrospective “So Sorry” at the Haus der Kunst, Ai visits doctor, complaining of dizziness and headaches. Scans reveal he is suffering internal cranial bleeding and he undergoes emergency brain surgery. Ai’s doctors state they believe the hemorrhage was linked to his beating in Sichuan. He leaves hospital on September 21.
November 3, 2010 Only two years after Ai is invited by the Shanghai authorities to build a studio in the city, the government slates it for demolition.
November 5, 2010 Placed under house arrest following his organization of a party to celebrate the demolition of his studio on November 7. Called the River Crab Feast, the party’s name plays on how the Chinese word “River Crab” is similar to the word for censorship.
November 7, 2010 River Crab Feast takes place in Shanghai. Hundreds of people gather even though Ai is under house arrest.
December 2, 2010 One week before the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony honoring Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo is due to take place in Oslo, Chinese officials at Beijing airport prevent Ai from boarding a flight for Seoul. “I think there’s a direct connection with next week’s Nobel Peace Prize award—the Chinese government is very upset about this,” he tells the BBC.
January 11, 2011 Ai’s studio in Shanghai is razed.
February 14, 2011 Ai’s retrospective at the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art (UCCA) in Beijing, planned for March, is canceled. The UCCA claimed logistical issues were to blame, but Ai dismissed this as an excuse, countering that the show was mainly comprised of works he had previously shown in Munich and was canceled because it was politically “too sensitive.”
April 3, 2011 Ai stopped and detained at Beijing airport as he attempted to board a flight to Hong Kong. His Beijing home and studio was searched, with 30 computers confiscated, and his wife and eight assistants questioned by the police.
April 17, 2011 “1,001 Chairs for Ai Weiwei” sit-in protest held in front of Chinese consulates and embassies all over the world, including in Hong Kong, Tallinn, Stockholm, Munich, Berlin, London, Dublin, New York, Washington, San Francisco and Los Angeles. The peaceful protests were inspired by Ai’s 1001 Qing Dynasty Wooden Chairs, displayed at Documenta, Kassel, in 2007.
May 3, 2011 Ai Weiwei has been detained without charge for one month.